Chinese Notes
Chinese Notes

Back to collection

Book of Documents 《尚書》

周書 洪範 Zhou Shu - Great Plan


In the thirteenth year, the king went to enquire of the count of Qi, and said to him, Oh! count of Qi, Heaven, (working) unseen, secures the tranquillity of the lower people, aiding them to be in harmony with their condition. I do not know how the unvarying principles (of its method in doing so) should be set forth in due order.'


The count of Qi thereupon replied, 'I have heard that in old time Gun dammed up the inundating waters, and thereby threw into disorder the arrangement of the five elements. God was consequently roused to anger, and did not give him the Great Plan with its nine divisions, and thus the unvarying principles (of Heaven's method) were allowed to go to ruin. Gun was therefore kept a prisoner till his death, and his son Yu rose up (and entered on the same undertaking). To him Heaven gave the Great Plan with its nine divisions, and the unvarying principles (of its method) were set forth in their due order.'


'(Of those divisions) the first is called "the five elements;" the second, "reverent attention to the five (personal) matters;" the third, "earnest devotion to the eight (objects of) government;" the fourth, "the harmonious use of the five dividers of time;" the fifth, "the establishment and use of royal perfection;" the sixth, "the discriminating use of the three virtues;" the seventh, "the intelligent use of (the means for) the examination of doubts;" the eighth, "the thoughtful use of the various verifications;" the ninth, "the hortatory use of the five (sources of) happiness, and the awing use of the six (occasions of) Suffering."'


i. 'First, of the five elements. The first is water; the second is fire; the third, wood; the fourth, metal; and the fifth, earth. (The nature of) water is to soak and descend; of fire, to blaze and ascend; of wood, to be crooked and straight; of metal, to yield and change; while (that of) earth is seen in seed-sowing and in-gathering. That which soaks and descends becomes salt; that which blazes and ascends becomes bitter; that which is crooked and straight becomes sour; that which yields and changes becomes acrid; and from seed-sowing and in-gathering comes sweetness.'


ii. 'Second, of the five (personal) matters. The first is the bodily demeanour; the second, speech; the third, seeing; the fourth, hearing; the fifth, thinking. (The virtue of) the bodily appearance is respectfulness; of speech, accordance (with reason); of seeing, clearness; of hearing distinctness; of thinking, perspicaciousness. The respectfulness becomes manifest in gravity; accordance (with reason), in orderliness; the clearness, in wisdom; the distinctness, in deliberation; and the perspicaciousness, in sageness.'


iii. 'Third, of the eight (objects of) government. The first is food; the second, wealth and articles of convenience; the third, sacrifices; the fourth, (the business of) the Minister of Works; the fifth, (that of) the Minister of Instruction; the sixth, (that of) the Minister of Crime; the seventh, the observances, to be paid to guests; the eighth, the army.'


iv. 'Fourth, of the five dividers of time. The first is the year (or the planet Jupiter); the second, the moon; the third, the sun; the fourth, the stars and planets, and the zodiacal spaces; and the fifth, the calendaric calculations.'


v. 'Fifth, of royal perfection. The sovereign, having established (in himself) the highest degree and pattern of excellence, concentrates in his own person the five (sources of) happiness, and proceeds to diffuse them, and give them to the multitudes of the people. Then they, on their part, embodying your perfection, will give it (back) to you, and secure the preservation of it. Among all the multitudes of the people there will be no unlawful confederacies, and among men (in office) there will be no bad and selfish combinations; let the sovereign establish in (himself) the highest degree and pattern of excellence. Among all the multitudes of the people there will be those who have ability to plan and to act, and who keep themselves (from evil) - do you keep such in mind; and there will be those who, not coming up to the highest point of excellence, yet do not involve themselves in evil - let the sovereign receive such. And when a placid satisfaction appears in their countenances, and they say, "Our love is fixed on virtue," do you then confer favours on them; those men will in this way advance to the perfection of the sovereign. Do not let him oppress the friendless and childless, nor let him fear the high and distinguished. When men (in office) have ability and administrative power, let them be made still more to cultivate their conduct; and the prosperity of the country will be promoted. All (such) right men, having a competency, will go on in goodness. If you cannot cause them to have what they love in their families, they will forthwith proceed to be guilty of crime. As to those who have not the love of virtue, although you confer favours (and emoluments) on them, they will (only) involve you in the guilt of employing the evil.

Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue the royal righteousness.
Without selfish likings,
Pursue the royal way.
Without selfish dislikings,
Pursue the royal path.
Avoid deflection, avoid partiality;
Broad and long is the royal way.
Avoid partiality, avoid deflection;
Level and easy is the royal way.
Avoid perversity, avoid one-sidedness;
Correct and straight is the royal way.
(Ever) seek for this perfect excellence,
(Ever) turn to this perfect excellence.

He went on to say, 'This amplification of the royal perfection contains the unchanging (rule), and is the (great) lesson; yea, it is the lesson of God. All the multitudes of the people, instructed in this amplification of the perfect excellence, and carrying it into practice, will thereby approximate to the glory of the Son of Heaven, and say, "The Son of Heaven is the parent of the people, and so becomes the sovereign of all under the sky."'


vi. 'Sixth, of the three virtues. The first is correctness and straightforwardness; the second, strong rule; and the third, mild rule. In peace and tranquillity, correctness and straightforwardness (must sway); in violence and disorder, strong rule; in harmony and order, mild rule. For the reserved and retiring there should be (the stimulus of) the strong rule; for the high(-minded) and distinguished, (the restraint of) the mild rule. It belongs only to the sovereign to confer dignities and rewards, to display the terrors of majesty, and to receive the revenues (of the kingdom). There should be no such thing as a minister's conferring dignities or rewards, displaying the terrors of majesty, or receiving the revenues. Such a thing is injurious to the clans, and fatal to the states (of the kingdom); smaller affairs are thereby managed in a one-sided and perverse manner, and the people fall into assumptions and excesses.'


vii. 'Seventh, of the (means for the) examination of doubts. Officers having been chosen and appointed for divining by the tortoise-shell and the stalks of the Achillea, they are to be charged (on occasion) to execute their duties. (In doing this), they will find (the appearances of) rain, of clearing up, of cloudiness, of want of connexion, and of crossing; and the inner and outer diagrams. In all (the indications) are seven;--five given by the shell, and two by the stalks; and (by means) of these any errors (in the mind) may be traced out. These officers having been appointed, when the divination is proceeded with, three men are to interpret the indications, and the (consenting) words of two of them are to be followed. When you have doubts about any great matter, consult with your own mind; consult with your high ministers and officers; consult with the common people; consult the tortoise-shell and divining stalks. If you, the shell, the stalks, the ministers and officers, and the common people, all agree about a course, this is what is called a great concord, and the result will be the welfare of your person and good fortune to your descendants. If you, the shell, and the stalks agree, while the ministers, and officers, and the common people oppose, the result will be fortunate. If the ministers and officers, with the shell and stalks, agree, while you and the common people oppose, the result will be fortunate. If the common people, the shell, and the stalks agree, while you, with the ministers and officers, oppose, the result will be fortunate. If you and the shell agree. while the stalks, with the ministers and officers, and the common people, oppose, internal operations will be fortunate, and external undertakings unlucky. When the shell and stalks are both opposed to the views of men, there will be good fortune in being still, and active operations will be unlucky.'


viii. 'Eighth, of the various verifications. They are rain, sunshine, heat, cold, wind, and seasonableness. When the five come, all complete, and each in its proper order, (even) the various plants will be richly luxuriant. Should any one of them be either excessively abundant or excessively deficient, there will be evil. There are the favourable verifications: namely, of gravity, which is emblemed by seasonable rain; of orderliness, emblemed by seasonable sunshine; of wisdom, emblemed by seasonable heat; of deliberation, emblemed by seasonable cold; and of sageness, emblemed by seasonable wind, There are (also) the unfavourable verifications - namely, of recklessness, emblemed by constant rain; of assumption, emblemed by constant sunshine; of indolence, emblemed by constant heat; of hastiness, emblemed by constant cold; and of stupidity, emblemed by constant wind.
He went on to say, 'The king should examine the (character of the whole) year; the high ministers and officers (that of) the month; and the inferior officers (that of) the day. If, throughout the year, the month, the day, there be an unchanging seasonableness, all the grains will be matured; the measures of government will be wise, heroic men will stand forth distinguished; and in the families (of the people) there will be peace and prosperity. If, throughout the year, the month, the day, the seasonableness be interrupted, the various kinds of grain will not be matured; the measures of government will be dark and unwise; heroic men will be kept in obscurity; and in the families (of the people) there will be an absence of repose. By the common people the stars should be examined. Some stars love wind, and some love rain. The courses of the sun and moon give winter and summer. The way in which the moon follows the stars gives wind and rain.'


ix. 'Ninth, of the five (sources of) happiness. The first is long life; the second, riches; the third, soundness of body and serenity of mind; the fourth, the love of virtue; and the fifth, fulfilling to the end the will (of Heaven). Of the six extreme evils, the first is misfortune shortening the life; the second, sickness; the third, distress of mind; the fourth, poverty; the fifth, wickedness; the sixth, weakness.'

English translation: James Legge

Glossary and Other Vocabulary